When Sir Alexander Dunbar of Boath stepped on to the first tee here in May 1899, just as Queen Victoria was celebrating her eightieth birthday, he declared open another golfing gem on the coastline of the Moray Firth, adding Nairn Dunbar Golf Club to Royal Dornoch and Nairn as "must play" clubs in the region. Sir Alexander donated both his name and sixty acres of whins and gorse for the admirable pursuit of a game in an area that enjoys a surprisingly mild climate for such a northerly latitude.
A challenging par four opens the par 72 course, followed by a shortish par four, then a straightforward par three, allowing a relatively gentle warm up. Be prepared though for a strong quartet of long, demanding par fours which are then encountered, where gorse, trees, greenside bunkers and out of bounds all present problems. This tough sequence of holes is then topped off by the semi-blind par three "Brodie," the 163-yard signature hole 8th, with its green nestled in a bowl, surrounded by bunkers.
Three newer holes are located around the turn, at the furthest point from the clubhouse, before the routing moves inland, culminating in a muscular three-hole stretch that maintains the challenging nature of Nairn Dunbar right to the end. With two par fives in this closing section at holes 16 and 18, you might think there's the chance of perhaps even securing a birdie - think again, as the benign stroke index for these holes is very misleading, especially at the last, which requires a blind approach shot to the severely raised home green.
Richard Johnstone, Nairn Dunbar Course Manager, kindly supplied us with the following quote in October 2016:
Over the last few years, we have made great strides towards promoting links golf here at Nairn Dunbar Golf Links. Continued tree and gorse removal will only allow the natural grasses to flourish. There has been a big attempt to firm the surfaces up: sand topdressing regularly, hollow coring approaches and sanding to promote firm entrances to greens, allowing players to use the bump and run shot.
Regular over seeding to greens with bent and fescue seed has seen us move from Poa-dominated greens to around 70% bent grass 10%Fescue. Fairway cutting height has been taken down from 12 mm to 10 mm which has made a big difference, allowing golfers to putt from well off the green, which was not possible before.
A rough management plan is in place where we will cut back all our rough areas twice a year, scarifying, spraying and picking up the clippings so that we can reduce the amount of rougher grasses and promote the finer links-like grasses to enable us to line our fairways with golden, wispy rough.
One might perhaps say that Nairn Dunbar is not as 'traditional' as Nairn or as 'modern' as Castle Stuart, but I enjoyed my round here tremendously. The welcome was warm and right from the start you are made to think about what shots to hit and when, taking into account the firm and hard conditions and the wind. I could easily play Nairn Dunbar every day and not get bored of it. If I lived in the area, I'd most definitely be a member here, as I had a lot of fun on this course. Sure, you don't have the great views as in Castle Stuart and, yes, perhaps the test of links golf isn't as stern as it is at Nairn, but the course is a lot of fun and you will be made to play every shot you have in the bag. I really enjoyed my round here and will come back as soon as I can.
After the Carnegie Week was over we headed back south and in the stop while my friends played Castle Stuart I took a taxi to Nairn Dunbar to visit this special place very near Nairn GC and whose logo is a very nice flower only found in 2 other parts in the world (12th fairway, right side dunes here). It is a very good, tough and demanding course (Especially holes 3rd to 7th) located just 200m from the Firth but with no views of the water. If you wish views and a nice Instagram Post this might be not the call, if you want a very good firm fast links course with some of the very best greens in Scotland with some nice green complexes as well, good value for money and one of the friendliest staffs in Scotland then this is your golf course.
Located in an area with some very famous neighbors, it for sure deserves consideration to be included in the trip. Not only by the conditioning but also for the challenge off the tee in many of them and also the risk reward par 5s which I liked a lot all 4 of them. Par 3s are also a very good feature of the course with tight bunkering around them and maybe the best green design on the course for 11th where just one bunker protects the flat higher part and then a deep hollow on the right side makes it important to select correctly the club and the shot to hit.
I have to say there was not one single hole I didn’t like. Some courses are blessed with a terrific piece of land by the water, others with huge dunes and hills around … this one has some nice located forests in blend with heath, small dunes, firm fairways and penalizing bunkers. It is a serious test of golf, maybe in the league of Lytham, Formby or Tain where distance will not be a factor if you hit it straight except long par 4s 4-5-6 which might be the toughest stretch of the course. Even 7th gets you because after a tough tee shot that small green demands one of the most precise approach shots of the round.
A course that leas skilled golfers will find very playable due to the lack of forced carries (except 17th tee shot over a burn) and where par 3s are not long. A final star to 18th, a par 5 where green is in a sort of higher platform from the fairway with a sort of Punchbowl left side and a break to the right on the front … reachable but not easy. As I like to highlight many courses in Scotland will be overshadowed by famous nearby Tier 1 Courses and this is unfair, unless you travel to Scotland once in your life to play golf then you should check in detail and blend some of the famous and more pricy venues with some hidden gems like this one and you will end getting a perfect golf trip.
Managed to return to play for a second time in mid June, and my fond memories of the course rung true.
Great homely feel to the club, and a course that I could quite happily be a member of.
After a dry spell the course was running fast and firm, and since my first visit in 2017 there has been great strides made in removing no indigenous trees and thinning of the heavier gorse areas, that make to visual appearance and playability of the course a lot better and fairer.
Definitely one to add to the list on a highland trip
Having played the historic Nairn already twice, this year decided to try the second course of Nairn and I am quite happy of my choice.
Even though the course is less spectacular as you never get to play close to the water, which is right next to the fairway at Nairn, I have to say that Dunbar is quite enjoyable and incredibly well kept.
There are not many unforgettable holes, apart the par 5 18th which is a wonderful finish, but the course is quite enjoyable, even though not particularly tough (but we played without wind)
A lovely members course, we had fun playing here. Golf in Scotland is always good with the locals. Laid back and friendly. Looks like they’re trying to enhance its ‘links’ roots and it looks great. Much nicer than dense tree and scrub lined holes on a lot of parklands you see
Reasonable members course but not a stunner. Some good holes - and some funny memories involving a ball striking a caravan - played it but can't imagine a revisit unless I move to Nairn !!
Unfortunately, we chose a filthy morning to play Nairn Dunbar with persistent rain arriving early in the round and staying with us until we reached the 17th green. Despite being let down by a rather dubious weather forecast we had no complaints whatsoever with either the quality of design or general presentation of this fast draining layout.
Noticeable on-course improvements have taken place during the last couple of years including an excellent bunker renovation programme. The removal of trees and gorse has also played a part, one significant creation being the view to the coast from the recently constructed 10th tee.
The early holes play across traditional seaside turf and are made up of some challenging par fours with both the 4th and 5th measuring close to 450 yards. I really enjoyed the run of holes from 6-8, the 6th requiring a particularly well struck approach to hold a challenging raised green. The tee shot on the 7th, "Kings Steps", must find an attractive angled fairway in a wooded section of the course and the superb par three 8th fronted by a ring of bunkers protects one of the most interesting greens of the round.
The finishing trio includes two par fives and all are good holes. A well-positioned burn causes no end of trouble at both the 16th and 17th and an angled ridge and difficult undulating green provide plenty of thrills on the18th. The final par five is definitely reachable in two for some but the green requires your full attention and three puts can easily follow.
A step down from Nairn next door but most definitely one to add to the itinerary when playing the cluster of high-end clubs nearby. Brian W
We played yesterday on a sunny and breezy day. The still damp in places fairways were just open and the greens had been tined and sanded, but despite this the course played well, and the pins were in very difficult spots probably to protect the main surfaces leading to a very fun game of golf. Typical slow start, then a super run out through to the far corner where I enjoyed the new holes. Tough finish on the last, an oblique raised level must be one of the hardest targets to hit, with characteristic green contours and run offs. I was strongly reminded of Glasgow Gailes and Irving, both honest, enjoyable clubs without the seaside views of near neighbours but providing a really solid game of links golf in better value, more welcoming surroundings.
Nairn Dunbar may live in the shadow of its Walker Cup hosting neighbour located on the west side of town but please don’t dismiss this enjoyable course from your Highlands golfing itinerary.
Here you will find a 6,765-yard championship length layout that features a number of demanding two-shotters, a fine quartet of short holes and a strong collection of par fives including the excellent finisher.
Unsurprisingly The Club has hosted many national competitions over the years and will co-host the British Boys Amateur Championship in 2017.
Nairn Dunbar, named Golf Yearbook's Scottish Club of the Year 2015, attracts visitors from far and wide who head to the popular golf destination of The Highlands. Perhaps one of the best ways to play this excellent value-for-money venue is to buy a Moray Golf Pass or look at a Highland Golf Escapes ticket as these offer exceptional prices and include a number of courses. Another excellent way to play here is to enter one of its many annual open competitions. However you book your tee-time though you will get extremely good bang for your buck.
With regards to the course itself the opening eight holes at Nairn Dunbar are of a particularly high standard and serve up all the thrills and spills associated with true links golf; natural movement in the land, deep pot bunkers and some excellent green complexes housing plenty of undulations.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I made my third visit to Nairn Dunbar last week and have to say I was really impressed with the condition of the course. I know that a concerted effort has been made to emphasize the links credentials of the layout recently and so half a dozen tees have been rebuilt and intrusive areas of gorse removed at almost half the holes. Further work has also been carried out to thin out trees between the 9th and 14th holes.
New greenside bunkers have been installed (or older ones replaced) on seven of the front nine holes, whilst new fairway bunkers have been added to five holes on the back nine. Every one of these new or renovated pot bunkers has been constructed to the highest standard possible, with properly revetted faces that you’d expect to find on the best championship courses.
Having just visited a large number of courses in the north east region in the previous few days and found that all of them had recently hollow tined their greens, I wondered why Nairn Dunbar had not done the same. “We did ours over three days in August,” Course Manager Richard Johnstone told me. You would honestly never believe a major maintenance task like that had been carried out, such was the late season growth that Richard had managed to achieve in the weeks since then.
It’s not all about conditioning, of course, even if the greens – which are in the process of bent grass overseeding to enhance their links quality – were absolutely fabulous. Architecturally, the use of natural ridges to hide or elevate a green (the former at the 2nd and the latter at the 7th) were features I’d not paid enough attention to in earlier visits, as was the wonderful lateral spine running through the 4th green and the lovely two-tiered putting surface at the long 13th.
I’m still not a big fan of the newer holes around the turn and some links purists might frown over the legacy tree plantations in the middle of the back nine – then again, there’s more than a touch of Panmure or Monifieth with these arboreal interventions which have never unduly hindered the ranking position of those particular courses and I wouldn’t get too hung up about them.
Nairn Dunbar rose thirteen places in the Scottish Top 100 chart last time around so efforts to improve course playability were obviously appreciated at that time and I’ve now seen enough to make me believe that trend might well continue when the listings are next overhauled. It’s great to see a really decent track located next to a world famous course rise to the challenge and the ongoing efforts of the club to improve the course certainly deserves recognition.